Speedflying fatality: 'He was pushing himself'

By Tracey Roxburgh of the Otago Daily Times

Sean Kerridge. Photo / Supplied
Sean Kerridge. Photo / Supplied

Speedwing flyer Sean Kerridge may have felt self-induced pressure when he took off for his last flight from the Treble Cone access road last year, moments before fatally crashing in to the hill below.

The 40-year-old electrical inspector died of a thoracic aorta rupture on February 17, 2012 after taking off from the Pub Corner launch site in rising westerly winds.

At the inquest before Otago-Southland Coroner David Crerar in Queenstown yesterday, Malcolm Haskins, a friend and commercial tandem paraglider with Speedwing flying experience, said he was"totally gobsmacked'' at the flight route Mr Kerridge took that day.

Mr Haskins said part of the human psyche was the decisions people made under pressure - known as"scarcity''.

"On the day Sean was flying, he only had that one chance to make the flight. He was trying to fly a line he'd been practising [for several days prior].

"The weather was coming in; his girlfriend had just arrived; the weather was going to be bad for the next five days. I have no idea why Sean chose to fly that line ... I'm assuming he was affected by the fact he wasn't going to get to fly for [several days].

"He was pushing himself.''

That morning Mr Kerridge was one of several people, primarily paragliders, who drove to the launch site about three-quarters of the way up the Treble Cone access road.

The weather was fine at the time, but westerlies were forecast to build to 30kmh in the morning and 50kmh by evening and there was a narrow window of opportunity to take off.

Mr Haskins launched about 11.15am, flew for about 30 minutes and landed before being notified of the crashed glider.

Meanwhile, architect Kathryn West, of Wanaka, was driving down the Treble Cone access road when she was contacted by radio about the incident.

After locating Mr Kerridge's glider on the slope and seeing no movement, she called 111 and started to make her way to him, while paraglider Bryan Moore also flew in to land as close as he could. Mr Haskins arrived moments later.

Mr Kerridge showed no signs of life and the group decided to start CPR, but they had trouble removing Mr Kerridge's full-faced helmet to give breaths.

CPR was continued for about 40 minutes before St John staff and a doctor arrived at the scene and pronounced him dead.

Mr Haskins said while Mr Kerridge had been flying the same line for several days before the incident, he had previously experienced "very different weather conditions''.

"On this particular day, and given the conditions, I would not have personally chosen to fly that particular line, or as close to terrain, as Sean was doing.''

Civil Aviation Authority safety investigator Justin Vincent, of Wellington, said Mr Kerridge had foot-launched and was observed travelling south across the slope "fast and low'' before impact.

The CAA determined weather was likely a contributing factor, with the Speedwing entering an area of descending air at low level with little opportunity for the pilot to recover.

He had been flying close to the ground, tracking downhill, rather than ridge soaring.

"Due to the low level, there was little available height to counteract [the descending air], resulting in a high-speed impact with the ground and fatal injuries to the pilot.''

There were no defects found on the Speedwing. However, Mr Vincent noted Mr Kerridge was operating the Speedwing outside the manufacturer's recommendations - having foot-launched (speed flying) rather than on skis (speed riding).

Mr Crerar said despite the breach of regulatory requirements, it was not a contributing factor to his death.

Mr Kerridge had completed a Paraglider Certificate 2, as was required, but it could not be determined how many flight hours he had completed.

While the Speedwing was not a certified product under Civil Aviation Rules, it met the definition of an aircraft and held a current warrant of fitness.

- Otago Daily Times

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